Volume 80, Number 44 | March 31 - April 6, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
THE TIMING OF A DAY
Written by Owen Panettieri
Directed by Joey Brenneman
At Center Stage (48 W. 21st St., 4th floor; btw. 5th & 6th Ave.)
For tickets, call 212-929-2228
Photo by Rachel Esterday
L to R: Nik Kourtis, R. Elizabeth Woodard and Miguel Govea.
For four in their twenties, it’s all in the timing
Playwright Panettieri on Obama and other bitter pills
BY JERRY TALLMER
The apartment in which “The Timing of a Day” takes place is in Harlem, near Morningside Park — and the three twentysomething roommates who are its occupants are ill-tempered Josh (Miguel Govea), temperate Doug (Nik Kourtis), and spunky, spiky, uptight Paige (R. Elizabeth Woodard).
Also on the scene is Matty (Justin Anselmi), Paige’s occasional visiting bedmate and fulltime bore, who in the play’s most mortifying moment bursts out into the living room to scrounge a couple of condoms from the Josh who is, so to speak, Paige’s official lover. As for Doug, who also loves Paige (and vice versa), it has taken him 20 years to work up the gumption to reveal his homosexuality to his suburbanite parents.
If all the above is beginning to sound like a Hemingway short story, well, so much more to the credit of the young writer who won several top awards for this same play in last year’s installment of FringeNYC.
Almost before you’re settled in your seat and have gotten to know those three roommates, one of them, Doug (who has shaken off a bang on the head from a fall on the ice in Morningside Park), collapses and dies across the all-purpose dining table just after Josh and Paige have gone off to work that morning.
There is a wise-guy adolescent’s game called 52 Pickup, in which ordinary playing cards are dropped one by one at random upon the floor. “The Timing of a Day” would seem to have been written that way — except of course it wasn’t. Its eight scenes come to us in non-chronological fashion, jumping back and forth before and after Doug’s death on January 13, 2009. Two weeks later comes the passage, and the line, that made me realize we had a real talent here with something to say and a way to say it:
Josh and Paige are, so to speak (thank you, Horton Foote) dividing the estate. Doug’s parents have already come and gone, taking almost everything of their late son’s with them.
“They took the table?” Paige asks.
“Um, no,” says Josh. “I just kinda left it out on the street. It was gone in 15 minutes….I didn’t wanna keep it. I mean, there wasn’t really anything wrong with it.”
Paige: “Except our friend died on it.”
It is lines like that, and emotions like that — undertones and overtones — that zing all the way through “The Timing of a Day.” And though it’s set in Harlem, color has nothing to do with it.
Well, that’s not true either. Though all four of these people are what is called “white,” at least three of them — I don’t know about Matty — had had a deep emotional stake in the advancement of Barack Obama to the presidency. This morning-after scene late in the play — the day after Election Day 2008, a bare two months before Doug’s collapse and blackout at that table — has its fine haze of exhausted exhilaration shot through with disillusion over Proposition 8, the sidebar California vote against gay marriages.
I went to high school — the Lincoln School of Teachers’ College — on the northern edge of Morningside Park, 425 West 123rd Street. Even back then, somewhat before Owen Panettieri was born, we kids knew better than to go into that park by daylight much less dark.
Not so, Owen Panettieri.
“When I was living up there,” he says, “just a couple of blocks away, I’d wandered through the park at night, by myself.”
“I wouldn’t recommend it, though.”
It was at that same Lincoln School, incidentally, that the senior class two or three years ahead of us put on a play — Sutton Vane’s 1923 “Outward Bound” — that, for its fatality and kismet and linkages (a ship at sea, a barking dog) would affect the whole rest of my imaginative and theatergoing life, up to and including the work under consideration right here. And would do so, be it said, under a somewhat less wooly, more precisioned (and no less poetic) title.
In “The Timing of a Day” the girl named Paige, an aspiring actress, has a day job — as did aspiring playwright Owen — with the NiteStar Health Education Program that goes out into the five boroughs from its base at St. Luke’s Hospital, 114th Street and Amsterdam.
“A friend I worked with,” says Panettieri, “was a woman whose roommate — a man — was hit by a police car and killed, just like that, right in the neighborhood near Morningside.
“This was in the winter of 2005. It was really traumatizing for her. I didn’t know him at all, but I couldn’t get it out of my head, just the idea of being cut down by a freak accident in the prime of your life — or just having your whole life shift,” says the Owen Panettieri who’d been in the prime of his own mid-20s five years ago.
Panettieri was also deeply affected by the delayed-action brain damage death of actress Natasha Richardson from a hit on the head in a 2009 skiing spill up in the Laurentian Mountains.
Is Doug (the sensitive one) really you, the playwright is asked.
“They’re all me,” Panettieri answers, thus preserving his Every Playwright’s Cliché License. “And after the death of my friend’s roommate, the next big thing that put the story into context for me was the election of 2008.”
In the play, gleeful post-election Paige says: “What do you think his [Obama’s] first big change is gonna be?”
“I don’t know. Gitmo, I guess,” says Doug — shorthand for Obama’s promised closing of the Guantanamo detention camp.
“Probably,” Paige says. “And then Don’t Ask Don’t Tell….”
With a sorry smile, Panettieri says: “We don’t get to hear about Gitmo any longer. When I wrote that line it wasn’t meant to be ironic, just a fact. For me, the play is about the errors of timing in our lives, the differences between expectation and actuality. The things we thought were just a dream that we’d never see happen” — e.g., a black American president — “do come true, do happen, while other, smaller things that we just assume will happen in our own lives often do not happen. When you’re approaching 30…” says Wesleyan University graduate Owen Panettieri, whose own father’s life as an air-traffic controller was blown away by Ronald Reagan.
“Well, I wrote that line, and here we are, two years later and it’s just the reverse” — with Don’t Ask wiped out but Gitmo still in place.
And you know what? The “bitter pill” of Proposition 8 may also be reversed — or coughed up — one of these days. It’s all a matter of timing.